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Retrieval Practice Grids in MFL

retrieval practiceThe Practice of Retrieval

‘When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. What if, instead, we focus on getting information out of students’ heads?’ (Agarwal, 2017) Whilst I feel the quotation is useful in introducing retrieval practice, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as: ‘the process of getting something back from somewhere’, it’s a process teachers do automatically on a daily basis. This could be in the form of recaps at the beginning of lessons, through questioning or activities during the lessonas well as in a mini-plenary or a final plenary. It is also the idea of summative assessments at the end of a unit or in KS4, for GCSE students. So, retrieval practice is not a new concept.

The Importance of Retrieval

When I first did my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) training in 2008, I was taught about recycling vocabulary, phrases and structures and implementing retrieval practice regularly to help students keep this acquired language alive. In fact, the British Council suggests that ‘you have to see a new word at least five times before you can usually use it and include it in your “active” vocabulary’. For this reason, when I read about retrieval practice grids a few months ago on social media, I could immediately see the benefits.

What Are Retrieval Practice GridsRetrieval Practice Grid for MFL?

Retrieval practice grids are simply a way of recalling concepts, vocabulary or structures from the previous lesson, a lesson from the week before, as well as from lessons even further back in time. This is structured in the form of a colour coded grid to make it most accessible to learners. I have found that making retrieval practice grids into a challenge with the ability to score points will get students even more engaged and invested in the activity. I tend to use them as starters with students in pairs or small groups.

As you can see from the example retrieval practice grid, it contains squares with various activities related to what students have learned, in this case, at the end of the topic of ‘Gesundheit’ (health). The colour coded boxes relate to different lessons, such as last lesson, a lesson last week, a lesson from two weeks ago, as well as a lesson from a while ago. Activities could include verbs from the lower order thinking skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as ‘describe’, ‘define’or ‘outline’ but could also include higher order thinking skills, such as ‘explain’ or ‘summarise’, for example.

When Can You Use Retrieval Grids

Ultimately, there is no reason why they can’t be used in every lesson (as long as the students have been taught something for a few weeks). I have been using them as intermittent starters, but from the new term, I will incorporate them into most classes, especially at KS4 for revision purposes, at least once a week, because retrieval grids allow students to recycle and re-cap new topics, as well as revise older topics. Retrieval skills are so important in recycling language and making it more “active” and accessible in the mind.

You can download my PowerPoint Template MFL Grid Template for Retrieval Practice  if you would like. If you do download it, and like it, please leave me a comment below!

To learn more about retrieval practice, visit: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/

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9 thoughts on “Retrieval Practice Grids in MFL

  1. Heya.

    These are nice. I use mind maps in order to teach concepts and vocabulary. I use the colour coding method a lot nowadays in addition. For example last week when I had to teach a entire lesson on numbers to a seventh grade class I basically relied on both of those techniques. I drew a minimal prep mindmap on a whiteboard. Then I even asked them to create mini summary notes as well in their exercise books. It was a fun and easygoing translation lesson mainly as I thought that was the best way to do such topics. Best of luck to you.

    In terms of my other classes, my teaching methods and technique however varies. I will definitely try the practice grid technique however and see what happens as a result of my experiments. I sometimes use music as a means of memory recall with auditory learners on top of that. When it comes to visual learners, I rigidly stick to the two techniques that were mentioned above. I have discovered that yes this is a technique that works wonders.

    Other techniques I’ve tried involve a dictionary. We play a game in which they use their French dictionaries to find five words on a topic of my choice once a term. They have to write down the meaning and use it in a sentence of their own choice (no swear words allowed). From time to time I let them teach me instead.

    1. I love the idea of using the dictionary to find 5 words and use them in a sentence. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I loved the idea. I was first introduced to retrieval practice during an exchange program in England and I’ve loved it since. Thanks for the grid template.

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